5 Weeks to Your Fastest 70.3 Bike Split

Follow this plan to transform your half-Ironman bike fitness. 

Riding your fastest 56 miles is a balancing act between stretching your effort beyond aerobic mode and not going out too fast too soon only to blow up on the run. On race day, pacing and rhythm in a Zone 3 heart rate is the key to your best Ironman 70.3 ride. To improve your race performance, you need to train to cycle with maximum efficiency at goal heart rate ranges, sustain and increase base endurance, and incorporate high-intensity intervals to increase your threshold to up your Zone 3 power output. This plan outlines that strategy in five weeks!

This program is for the experienced triathlete who has done 2–3 months of regular riding three times per week minimum. These should include several 2–3+ hour rides, and 4–6 weeks of intervals or hard efforts. There are five rides per week in this schedule focusing on strength (low cadence), threshold (Zone 4–5), recovery (Zone 1), half Ironman pace work (Zone 3) and base endurance (Zone 2). The schedule also includes suggestions for running and swimming. Performing the workouts in the order listed is recommended.

Finish this program two weeks prior to your key event to allow ample time to taper for a peak performance.

Find Your Threshold:
Understanding lactate threshold (LT) training is critical to improvement. Your LT determines how long and how hard you can exert near maximum effort. There’s a point when the body begins to produce lactate faster than it can be metabolized—this is the LT.

To determine your LT, do a field test on the bike and the run on separate days, when your legs feel rested. After a warm-up of 15 minutes (run) to 30 minutes (bike), do a 30-minute time trial on flat terrain where you can hold your hardest uninterrupted effort for that duration (a bike trainer is ideal for the bike test and the track is a good option for the run).

Pace your time trial as evenly as possible. To determine your LT heart rate, hit the lap button on your heart rate monitor 10 minutes into the time trial. The average heart rate for the final 20 minutes is your LT heart rate. The average pace for the final 20 minutes is your LT pace (if performed on flat surface in good weather conditions).

Key:

‘ = minutes
” = seconds
(x”) = recovery
RPM = revolutions per minute, or bike cadence

Week 1

Monday
Day off; or optional swim 2000–3000, drill and technique emphasis.

Tuesday
Bike: 2 hours, threshold. After warming up, do 4×20″ (40″) pickups at 90% of max speed. 5′ easy. 20′ Zone 4; 10′ easy; 5×5′ (5′) Zone 4 gradually build to Zone 5 through the set. Performance Pointer: For a high intensity set, warming up and cooling down properly is extra important for injury prevention, optimal effort in session and recovery for future sessions.

Run: 30–45′, aerobic. Include 8–10 x 1′ cadence count. Shoot for 90+ RPM.

Wednesday
Bike: 90′, strength. After warming up, include 5×5′ (3′) low RPM hills or trainer intervals. #1–2 at 70 RPM, Zone 2; #3–4 at 60 RPM, Zone 2–3; #5 at 50 RPM, Zone 3. Performance Pointer: During hill training, check for a relaxed upper body. Hands should be lightly gripping bars and arms should be soft at the elbows and relaxed.

Swim: 2000–3000 with intervals at goal race pace

Thursday
Bike: 60–90′, aerobic. Zone 1-2, flatter terrain.
Run: 30–45′ off the bike, as 15–20′ Zone 3–4, the balance in Zone 2

Friday
Swim 2000–3000, aerobic. Include pulling with paddles.

Saturday
Bike: 3–4 hours, pace work. After warming up, do 4×20″ (40″) pickups at 90% of max speed. 5′ easy. Do 4×30′ (10′) Zone 3 on goal race course terrain.

Swim: 2500–3500, endurance and speed. Swim with longer sustained efforts, followed by sprints of 25s and 50s.

Sunday
Bike: 3–4 hours, hilly aerobic. Zone 1–3, mostly Zone 2. Performance Pointer: Keep climbs above 70 RPM, flat terrain at 90–95 RPM and descents at 100+ RPM. Keep pedaling at all times and plan to ride these base rides non-stop.

Run: 60–90′, aerobic. Zone 2, flatter terrain.

Week 2

Monday
Day off; or optional swim 2000–3000, drill and technique emphasis.

Tuesday
Bike: 2 hours, threshold. After warming up, do 4×20″ (40″) pickups at 90% of max speed. 5′ easy. 20′ Zone 4; 10′ easy; 3×8′ (8′) Zone 4 gradually build to Zone 5 through the set. Performance Pointer: Biking at threshold takes concentration and consistent focus. Instead of going on autopilot, check in constantly for high effort and smooth relaxed cycling.

Run: 30-45′, aerobic. Include 8–10 x 1′ cadence count. Shoot for 90+ RPM.

Wednesday
Bike: 90′, strength. After warming up, include 5×5′ (3′) low RPM hills or trainer intervals. #1–2 at 70 RPM, Zone 2; #3–4 at 60 RPM, Zone 2–3; #5 at 50 RPM, Zone 3. Performance Pointer: During hill training, check for a relaxed upper body. Hands should be lightly gripping bars and arms should be soft at the elbows and relaxed.

Swim: 2000–3000 with intervals at goal race pace

Thursday
Bike: 60–90′, aerobic. Zone 1-2, flatter terrain.

Run: 30–45′ off the bike, as 15–20′ Zone 3–4, the balance in Zone 2

Friday
Swim: 2000–3000, aerobic. Include pulling with paddles.

Saturday
Bike: 3–4 hours, pace work. After warming up, do 4×20″ (40″) pickups at 90% of max speed. 5′ easy. Do 4×30′ (10′) Zone 3 on goal race course terrain.

Swim: 2500–3500, endurance and speed. Swim with longer sustained efforts, followed by sprints of 25s and 50s.

Sunday
Bike: 90’–2 hours, aerobic. Zone 1–3, mostly Zone 2. P Allow 30–45′ of warm-up for base rides at the end of a big week, and start eating calories early and regularly. The goal is to finish the ride with energy, not fantasizing about shakes and burgers.

Run: 90’–2 hours, aerobic. Mostly Zone 2, flatter terrain.

Week 3

Recovery Week: Reduce volume of all sessions to 50% of regular training volume. Take Monday and Friday completely off. Most riding should be aerobic in Zone 1–2, but midweek include 4×3′ (3′) Zone 4 at 90–95 RPM, and on the weekend do 20′ of sustained Zone 3 riding to stay sharp.

Week 4

Monday
Day off; or optional swim 2000-3000, drill and technique emphasis.

Tuesday
Bike: 2 hours, threshold. After warming up, do 4×20″ (40″) pickups at 90% of max speed. 5′ easy. 20′ Zone 4; 10′ easy; 2×12′ (12′) Zone 4 gradually build to Zone 5 through the set. Performance Pointer: When riding fast, keep cadence within your optimal range (90-95). Pedal in smooth circles, distributing the work evenly between the hamstring and gluteal muscles, and tune into how that perfect circle carries the bike forward.

Run: 30–45′, aerobic. Include 8–10 x 1′ cadence count. Shoot for 90+ RPM.

Wednesday
Bike: 90′, strength. After warming up, include 3×10′ (5′) low RPM hills or trainer intervals. #1 at 50 RPM, Zone 2; #2 at 60 RPM, Zone 2–3; #3 at 70 RPM Zone 3.

Swim: 2000–3000 with intervals at goal race pace

Thursday
Bike: 60–90′, aerobic. Zone 2, flatter terrain.
Run: 30–45′ off the bike, as 15–20′ Zone 3–4, the balance in Zone 2

Friday
Swim 2000–3000, aerobic. Include pulling and paddles.

Saturday
Bike: 3–3.5 hours, pace work. After warming up, do 4×20″ (40″) pickups at 90% of max speed. 5′ easy. 3×45′ (15′) Zone 3 on goal race course terrain. Performance Pointer Keep within your goal heart rate, focus on riding the course well, and pay attention to cornering, descents and hills.

Swim: 2500–3500, endurance and speed. Swim with longer sustained efforts, followed by sprints of 25s and 50s.

Sunday
Bike: 3–4 hours, hilly aerobic. Zone 1–3, mostly Zone 2. Performance Pointer: If you typically go with a group on aerobic days, be true to your own plan. Keep your base rides mainly in Zone 2 to allow for recovery and to set you up for the next week’s challenging efforts.

Run: 60–90′, aerobic. Zone 2, flatter terrain.

Week 5:

Monday
Day off or optional swim 2000–3000, drill and technique emphasis.

Tuesday
Bike: 2 hours, threshold. After warming up, do 4×20″ (40″) pickups at 90% of max speed. 5′ easy. 20′ Zone 4; 10′ easy; 5×3′ (3′) Zone 5. Go for it! Performance Pointer: This is your last week of hard efforts. Challenge yourself to hit your highest wattage or best times.

Run: 30-45′, aerobic. Include 8–10 x 1′ cadence count. Shoot for 90+ RPM.

Wednesday
Bike: 75′, strength. After warming up, include 2×10′ (10′) low RPM hills trainer intervals. Both at 60 RPM, Zone 2.

Swim: 2000–3000 with intervals at goal race pace

Thursday
Bike: 60–90′, aerobic. Zone 1–2, flatter terrain.

Run: 30–45′ off the bike, as 15–20′ Zone 3–4, the balance in Zone 2

Friday
Swim: 2000–3000, aerobic. Include pulling with paddles.

Saturday
Bike: 3–4 hours, pace work. After warming up, do 4×20″ (40″) pickups at 90% of max speed. 5′ easy. Do 2×60′ (20′) Zone 3 on goal race course terrain.

Swim: 2500–3500, endurance and speed. Swim with longer sustained efforts, followed by sprints of 25s and 50s.

Sunday
Bike: 2–3 hours, aerobic. Zone 1–3, mostly Zone 2. P On long rides, check in with yourself often. Are you relaxed? How is your cadence? Are you eating well and on a schedule? Training is an excellent time to be your own best coach.

Run: 90′-2 hours, aerobic. Zone 2, flatter terrain.

Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 30 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Contact Lance to tackle your first Ironman or to perform at a higher level. For more training tips, visit LifeSport Coaching on Facebook or on Twitter at @LifeSportCoach.